Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971)


(director: Robert Florey/Gordon Hessler; screenwriters: story by Edgar Allan Poe/Henry Slesar/Christopher Wicking; cinematographer: Manuel Berenguer; editor: Max Bennedict; music: Waldo de los Rios cast: Jason Robards Jr (Cesar Charron), Herbert Lom (Rene Marot), Christine Kauffmann (Madeleine Charron), Lilli Palmer (Mrs. Charron), Adolfo Celi (Inspector Vidocq), Michael Dunn (Pierre Triboulet), Maria Perschy (Genevre), Marshall Jones (Luigi Orsini); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Louis M. Heyward; AIP (MGM Home Entertainment); 1971-UK)

It’s a very loose version of Poe’s book.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the fourth go at filming Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, and the one I found the most ambitious but also the most troubling. It’s a very loose version of Poe’s book and is even a looser version than the very loose 1932 movie version. The Poe story is presented as a revenge tale set in a turn-of-the 20th century Parisian theater, owned by Cesar Charron (Jason Robards Jr). He is producing and acting in Poe’s Grand Guignol play of Murders in the Rue Morgue, whereby a series of real grisly murders takes place on the set. We first witness the murder of the actor who plays the ape. He is found in his dressing room with his face disfigured by acid. Since the murder happened before the play began, the investigating detective, Inspector Vidocq (Adolfo Celi), deduces the killer donned the ape costume and performed onstage during the play. The cop suspects the killer to be an actor in the theater company.

Cesar and his wife Madeleine (Christine Kauffmann) both perform in the play. Madeleine resembles her mother, the former actress (Lilli Palmer). She was murdered by an axe wielded by her lover, Rene Marot (Herbert Lom). He’s thought to be dead by suicide, but seemingly has risen from the dead. He’s badly disfigured due to a theater accident, where Mrs. Charron threw acid on him during the play. The acid was placed there on purpose by someone else, without the knowledge of Mrs. Charron. The trouble is Rene blamed her without thinking.

Rene’s undetected presence in the theater results in a string of gory murders, that include the prostitute Genevre (Maria Perschy) and the escape artist Luigi Orsini (Marshall Jones). The hateful Rene has indeed found a way to cheat death and secretly returns to get revenge on his former theater company by disfiguring them with acid before murdering them.

Meanwhile the anxiety-ridden Madeleine has the recurring nightmare in which someone cuts a rope, causing a man to fall from the theater’s catwalk to his death, and other nightmares linked to events in the play.

It seems more like The Phantom of the Opera than a Poe story. Director Gordon Hessler(“The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”/”Medusa”/”Puzzle”) relies on style, clever bits and nightmarish shockers to grab the viewer’s attention. Writers Henry Slesar and Christopher Wicking sensationalize the reworking to the point it’s not Poe’s story anymore but has been raped by Hessler. That would be fine if I liked the changes.

It was filmed in Spain.